By David Swanson
The evidence that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld lied us into a war is overwhelming but also dry and dense. But imagine seeing it presented coherently and systematically in a dramatic performance full of humor and emotion. That is the gift that playwrite Craig Barnes has given us in “A Nation Deceived.” The script is available now at http://www.anationdeceived.org and Barnes encourages you to take it to your local organizations and perform it. Beginning November 1st, you will be able to go to the same website and purchase a video on DVD of the play being performed by a group of actors with Ed Asner in the lead role. (If you’re in Los Angeles on November 6, you can catch a live performance with Asner.)
To give you a taste of what this play is about, I interviewed the author. Audio of this interview is here:
David Swanson: Craig Barnes, author of “A Nation Deceived”, it’s good to talk to you.
Craig Barnes: Thank you, it’s good to be here.
David Swanson: So, tell me about this play and where the idea came from to write it.
Craig Barnes: When we watched a year ago when Patrick Fitzgerald did his press conference indictment of Scooter Libby, the mere recitation of the facts was so powerful, so compelling, and so attended to by the networks that I thought to myself, the facts themselves unvarnished, without hyperbole and without special ridicule of the president actually can have great power, and I had been accumulating notes since before the war began. As a former trial lawyer, I had been accumulating facts, which I had put together in what I call an indictment, and so I had about 28 pages of very thick, dense material, but nobody was going to read my 28 pages of thick, dense material and then I thought well, if Patrick Fitzgerald can have such an impact and get the network anchor people to be quoting him with careful recitation, I could try to do that in a drama, so this began almost a year ago, somewhere about a year ago, when we decided to see, since I had written a couple of successful plays, maybe I could put this in a drama form and get those facts in front of people who need it.
David Swanson: I actually had just started reading the script of the play on your web site, and I’m halfway through it and I’m dying to finish it, and that lays out facts, but it does so with a great deal of humor and it occurs to me that it may be an excellent way to not just keep people’s attention, but allow them to get through some pretty ugly facts; what was the thinking in writing this dialogue as an exchange among players in a courtroom?
Craig Barnes: Well, if you are going to keep people’s attention and not just make them feel like they’re force-fed, you ought to put some humanity into it, have the characters be interesting as people and then, of course humor is the heart of any Shakespearean play too, you have to have some of that, remember that from the eighth grade? So, of course, a little bit of humor helps us all swallow this material, and one of the fun things was that when we did this reading with Ed Asner here in Santa Fe, after the first night reading, he said I need a little more tension here between me in the congresswoman, and so the next day, I wrote him some tension and some repartee between the two of them and it was a whole lot more fun, and so you get your suggestions wherever you get them, you know. Ed Asner was responsible for that one.
David Swanson: Right, and the first witness in this trial of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld is a congresswoman who voted for the war because, as she says, she was lied to, and it’s an interesting part, and I wonder if there is a group of actual Congress members that you think fit sort of that role, because clearly, there was a huge section of Congress that saw the lies and voted against the authorization to use force, and there was a huge section of Congress that was happy to play along with anything, didn’t care of it was true or not; was there significant group in Congress that really took matters seriously and honestly and believed the lies and went to war on that basis, or is your prosecutor right in badgering the congresswoman that, “what did you do, have to park your brain outside?” Did anyone honestly fall for it?
Craig Barnes: Well, I think John Kerry is a pretty good… He is, of course, in the Senate and not in the Congress…
David Swanson: Sure…
Craig Barnes: He is a well-known example of a congressperson who voted for the war, a person who ended up and the Congress and voted for the war, thinking that the intelligence had been presented to them. I think quite a number of them thought that they had gotten straight shot, they got that 25-page booklet that did not include all of the information, but they thought that they had and for a long time, the White House was telling them that you have all the intelligence we did, so I think those who are predisposed not to rock the boat, those who saw the avalanche of public opinion in favor of the president were inclined because of the avalanche of public opinion to interpret it in the president’s favor. It also worked to their favor, they thought, because it would help them get reelected, so there was a kind of combination of self interest in reading the facts in a way that supported the president. An awful lot of democrats went down that road and I think the prosecutor in this case in this “Nation Deceived” is right to say with some skepticism that you have to be really, really naïve to get elected to Congress, because, of coursed, looking back, they were just duped.
David Swanson: Yeah, John Kerry was at that time planning to run for president, and the hype in the media was “if you don’t vote for this war you can never run for president, and so then during the primaries with the other Democrats, Kerry maintained that he had been lied to, but then towards the end, he was asked even knowing now that you were lied to, would you still have voted for the same war, and he said yes, presumably, the only explanation for which can be that he still thought that he had to support the war, while opposing it, in order to get elected president, and so there seems to be at least a mixture of motives as you say, not strictly a matter of honestly believing that the mushroom clouds were coming.
Craig Barnes: Well, when you run for office, these motives tend to get confused and mixed and so yeah, he probably had both, and I think his confusion in the end is much of what defeated him as anything else. He just didn’t come down where he could have done or as he had done in the late 1960s, early 1970s, so he did himself in with that and it’s appropriate for somebody standing outside of that political vortex, like the prosecutor in this pay to say to him, “Are you kidding? Doesn’t all this hype just make you a little bit sick?” And, of course, it does us. We are not doing the calculus of getting reelected, but its time that they stood up and one of the reasons for this play is to say to Congress people, you have heard enough now to have the courage to vote for impeachment, to talk about lying, to talk about not funding Halliburton to the tune of 11 billion dollars. You’ve heard enough now to stand up and be counted, and I hope that that is the intended audience.
David Swanson: Yes, one way to watch this play, I imagine, is as a nice fantasy. This would be wonderful if this happens, sort of like watching the West Wing, where you imagine what if we had a president with a little integrity, but impeachment seems to be what we’re more likely to get than a trial that matches this play, and of course, in impeachment, the prosecutors have to be those very same congress members, some of whom were complicit in the crimes. How do we get around that?
Craig Barnes: Well that is, of course, exactly right, and the congress floats along in the middle of the stream; it doesn’t take a lot of chances with people like Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, but in general, they are looking for the middle all the time, so what a play like this can do, has to do first, is go to the public and create a public that understands these issues and has enough factual material to really be confident, so that’s part of the strategy here is to create a solid, factual base that people can say, this is real material, the playwright didn’t make this up, we’re not conniving to leave some evidence out and put other evidence in. This is really reliable, so that’s one of the strategies here.
David Swanson: And it’s incredibly well done and it hits all the major pieces of evidence, but does so in this entertaining way, because on this web site www.afterdowningstreet.org , we have this list of all the evidence, but how many people are going to read through all this dry stuff? Ed Asner and some other actors did record a recreation of the Downing Street minutes as The Meeting, you know, and people listened to that and people actually went out and performed the Downing Street Meeting, but that’s one piece of evidence. It would be great to see this play in every city around the country. Where has it been performed and where might it be coming?
Craig Barnes: We’ve done readings in Santa Fe, we’re going to do a reading on Los Angeles with Ed Asner again on the night before the election….
David Swanson: Great.
Craig Barnes: ….and then we’ll do all the hype and publicity we can before that in Los Angeles because it’s really going to be the newspaper coverage that does the most for us in that large metropolitan area, small theater can’t accomplish it, but talking about the event in a small theater could very well help us, so we’ll be doing it there and then we’re getting feelers from around the country and we’ll follow every one we can, do everything we can. The web site, as you may have noticed, offers a couple of possibilities: One is that people can get hold of the DVD, which I should have in my hands today, and which should be available for distribution within a couple of weeks, and people can invite people into he or homes to watch the DVD and see ED Asner play the old country lawyer versus the Washington establishment, or they can just draw down the script themselves as you have done and read it, invite friends in, and we have had quite a number of places from Connecticut to Colorado to New Mexico pulling down the script and just having fun having people come in for wine and cheese and read and play the parts, and then, of course, the third thing is that small theater groups can use this script and we have had some feelers about that, the small theater groups saying , can we do it, and, of course, my response is absolutely. There is no royalty, there is no copyright problem, bring it down, do it with your own people.
David Swanson: That’s wonderful. So people should go to www.anationdeceived.org and print out the script and let you know what they’re doing and perform it, and the DVD will soon be on that same site as well.
Craig Barnes: The way to get the DVD will be on that site and we’ll make copies. We’ll charge people for the shipping. We’re trying to raise donations to make them up ourselves so that people don’t have to pay for it, so we’ll get as much distribution as we can.
David Swanson: Terrific. So, you’re from Colorado. This country lawyer from Colorado with all his horse and hay metaphors, there’s some autobiography in here?
Craig Barnes: (Laughing)…..well I practiced law for many years in Colorado, that’s true…..
David Swanson: (Laughing)…. I see….
Craig Barnes I have some property in western Colorado with horses, so yeah you got me.
David Swanson: (Laughing)….when did you write this; is it just within the past months?
Craig Barnes: No, no, it’s been going on, as I mentioned earlier, for a whole year. I’m not good enough to just whip it out, so we have been working on it, we have had readings in homes and on stages and all kinds of places until we finally got in good enough shape for Ed Asner to come and do a real job with it.
David Swanson: It’s very much up to date, and it starts out with talk of something that happened in 1215 and rights that we have just recently lost, and with the Military Commissions Act having been signed now, it seems very appropriate. What was this event in 1215?
Craig Barnes: That was a Magna Carta. That was the signing of the Magna Carta, which is the foundation of Western democracy, and at the time at which these rights were fought and battled over and had been for some years prior to 1215, and King John was finally forced with his back to the trees to allow these rights to the English barons and they came and went for the next 300 or 400 years off and on and then finally enshrined in our US Constitution, and now here we are after all those battles and all those efforts to obtain a democracy, to obtain some rights for freeman against the King, here we’ve got a king-like president who has probably: a) No knowledge of the source of these rights, b) No affection for the source of these rights or the continuation of them, and C) He has the mentality of the tyrant who would just do whatever he needs to do and make up the facts after he’s done it, so this is a dangerous time for a long history, a history which has never been repeated in any of the society, nothing like the evolution of Western law has occurred anywhere else, and the law about the King is an absolutely remarkable thing historically, but now this “King” is making yet another attempt, he and Dick Cheney primarily to make another attempt to say this history doesn’t matter. Well he doesn’t know enough about it to know that it matters, but it is the source of American economic successes, the source of our cultural successes, the source of our creativity. This kind of freedom is what makes this country a lot of culturally in the schools and in the art galleries, and without that, this country adds up to nothing.
David Swanson: Very well said. The list of rights that have been taken away from us under this president is quite long and this drama that you have written focuses on the lives that justified the war, the fraudulent case for the war, and a felony of misleading Congress, and, of course, it is an unimpeachable offense to mislead the public, but I haven’t finished reading the play, but I don’t think your prosecutor is going after the detentions and the torture and chemical weapons and attacks on civilians and illegal spying programs and illegal propaganda and secrecy and leaks of classified information and the stolen elections and on and on and on, the list of possible articles of impeachment is enormous. Do you think, while one question is, do you plan to write any more plays on other issues, and another is, do you think that the fraudulent case for war is the most important article of impeachment, and if so, why?
Craig Barnes: I would not say is the most important article of impeachment; I think the litany that you have just spelled out is there for articles of impeachment, but it is for high crimes and misdemeanors; that his impeachment has to be based on high crimes and misdemeanors, and so we’re looking for violations of the law; what seemed to me to be important was anchored this case in real code section, Section 371, Title 18, which makes it a felony to lie to the Congress in the performance of its constitutional duties, so I tried to, and I think that the strongest case, is for not just lying to the American people, for which probably there is such an endless catalog of material that nobody could single out of president, but lying to a Congress in the performance of its constitutional duty to declare or not declare war, I think, could be the core of a case, so that was one reason. Elizabeth de la Vega has written nicely in The Nation magazine last year of how 371 had been violated, and I took heart from that talk to her, and she was a former federal prosecutor in San Jose, California, and I think she made the case that we are not just talking about blowing smoke or saying the president is a bad guy, the president lies; we are talking about violations of a real code section, for which case law, upon which a lawyer could rely, and we have to give these people in Congress and the confidence to do that, so that was one reason for narrowing the case. Another was simply the limits of what you can do in a two-hour trauma, and a third is that people are overwhelmed with this litany that you have recited…
David Swanson: Yes…
Craig Barnes: …. where to get a handle on it, where to begin with that, so it’s actually useful sometimes too narrow it and make it a simple, straightforward, “these are the facts” case, and that’s what Patrick Fitzgerald did so well with Scooter Libby, and which had so much impact, because it was stripped of all the extra possible cases, all the possible ways we could nail this guy. These were real facts, real materials, real witnesses who were eyewitnesses who could appear in court, could give you reasonable testimony, and that ought to be encouraged to moderates and uncertain people throughout the political spectrum.
David Swanson: I could not agree more. Elizabeth de la Vega; have you seen her new book? She has a book on the subject.
Craig Barnes: I have not.
David Swanson: It’s coming out next month, and is a case for criminal prosecution, and so it’s not entirely dissimilar to your play, although maybe not as dramatic and entertaining, and I wonder what you think are the actual prospects for criminal prosecution or civil prosecution in this country or abroad? I know that the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a case in Germany against Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld almost had to cancel a trip to Germany because it was afraid he would be arrested, and there are those who have always had in mind in the long term this sort of Pinochet scenario, where we get these guys under international law and international court and restore the existence of international law in the process. What do you think in the long run are the prospects for this?
Craig Barnes: I think the courts in my experience in trying cases is that courts re substantially centrist; that they don’t wander very far beyond public opinion. If there is a collapse of support of the president and some sense of outrage, if something happens that makes him a less-than-honorable character, I could see something more than lying. I could see the tide sweep against him and a post-presidency trial happening. I could see it more likely to happen with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I think that those possibilities exist. They would have the beneficial effect of reviving a global respect for international law and I think it could be quite useful that way. On the other hand, our most central objective needs to be simply to get that kind of person out of public office in this country, so our first objective doesn’t need to be trial and imprisonment, and I frankly, personally, couldn’t care less whether they spend days in jail; I think what’s most important is they stop misleading the American public and trampling on this extraordinary heritage of civil law, because it’s the civil law heritage which is the backbone of our system, so rather than vengeance or revenge against these guys, the biggest objective, the first one, is to stop this predation on the constitution.
David Swanson: Again, very well said, and the play is incredibly well done. It’s brilliantly entertaining as well as important, and I hope everyone will go to www.anataiondeceived.org and arrange to have more people read it and perform it. Craig Barnes, thanks for talking to me.
Craig Barnes: David, it’s great to talk to you. Thank you for calling.
David Swanson: Sure.